Better known as a ski destination, southwestern Hokkaido also offers myriad outdoor activities in summer and autumn, including hiking and rides on scenic gondolas. We had a splendid time exploring the dramatic landscapes of this volcanic island, pocked with caldera lakes and studded with forested mountains.
Hana 1 Chairlift
Steps from the Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono, the Hana 1 Chairlift is an enclosed gondola in summer that leads up Mount Niseko-Annupuri. A six-minute ride to the top yields panoramas of Hokkaido, notably the cone of distant Mount Yotei if the sky is clear, but there are no facilities at the summit. We actually waited until nightfall to ride up Hana 1. In the summer, a huge installation by artist Bruce Munro snakes up the mountainside. Thousands upon thousands of fiber-optic lights form a sinuous path beneath the lift, like so many glowing dandelions or jellyfish. It made for quite a romantic stroll back down to the Park Hyatt, where the lights culminate in a spiral. This piece of landscape art, assuming it will be reinstalled again next summer, makes the Hana 1 Chairlift as worthwhile at night as during the day, if not even more so.
A marsh hike may not sound especially appealing, but Shinsen-numa proved to be extraordinarily picturesque. The road here winds through splendid green mountains, taking about a half hour from either the Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono or Shiguchi. A wood boardwalk leads through lush forest — along easy, almost entirely flat terrain — to the wetlands. This verdant, gently undulating expanse is dotted with little ponds and wildflowers and backdropped by old volcanic cones. Occasional pine trees poke up in relative isolation, making the landscape look almost composed. Allow at least 90 minutes for the walk.